In last week’s “Customer Experience in the Cloud” LinkedIn Live episode and recap blog, we kicked off our new mini-series, “Customer Experience Differentiated,” with a discussion about first impressions and how AI can give contact centers a leg up in that critical pre-interaction phase. This week, we’re diving into the meat and potatoes of the interaction phase itself — where AI also has a crucial role to play.

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Like we said last week, first impressions are key to putting you in an advantageous position to succeed, but ultimately it all comes down to individual calls, individual conversations and the performance of individual agents. How efficiently and how successfully are your agents handling their everyday interactions?

Of course, as with first impressions, the path to better customer-agent interactions begins and ends with genuine self-reflection. What is your team doing well? What could they be doing better? The problem, however, is that productive self-reflection requires accurate feedback. And without the implementation of AI-fueled technologies like agent assist and transcription, scaling accurate feedback to individual contact center agents remains nearly impossible. 

The problem with manual feedback for contact center agents

Not only is feedback and coaching a prerequisite to capitalizing on your strengths while shoring up your weaknesses, it’s also vital to keeping your teams engaged and productive. Craving feedback is human nature. We all want the world to show us how we’re doing and how we can improve. And that’s just as true for Millennial or Gen Z agents as it is for supervisors and CX leaders.

Historically though, contact center leaders have always struggled to actually provide that feedback in anything resembling a systematic and personalized manner. Most of us are responsible for a huge number of agents, and are only able to get eyes and ears on a small percentage of any given agent’s calls.

We typically aren’t able to sit down with them until the end of the month, and when we do, it’s hard to be sure the small sample of interactions we’re reviewing accurately reflects overall performance. If you’ve ever been an agent before yourself, you probably know it can be hard not to feel a little contempt when you sit across from your manager after taking 1000 calls, and they’re judging you based on just two or three. 

More often than not, the agent is sitting across the table thinking, “This person doesn’t really know what happens in my world.” The second you lose that trust, you lose the ability to coach them up. 

It’s a major problem. And as we discuss in our guide to enabling the WFH call center, the coronavirus pandemic has made it even worse — because now you can’t be there in the same space with agents, walking around and checking in on calls.

Poor CX feedback loops undermine both quality and efficiency

Today when customers have a problem, 81 percent of them, across all industries, try and take care of matters themselves without reaching out. The calls that do make it through to a contact center agent are the ones with the highest complexity, highest levels of customer frustration, and ultimately, the highest stakes.

When your feedback strategy and coaching process boils down to a handful of supervisors running around trying to be everywhere at once, you miss an opportunity to help your agents deliver more successful outcomes. You also prevent them from helping more customers. 

To facilitate manual feedback loops, most agents are still saddled with the responsibility of capturing conversations and filling out administrative forms after every call. This after-call work is extremely time-consuming — in my personal experience, accounting for anywhere between 10 and 50 percent of the total handle time, depending on the industry. 

Not only does all that administrivia absolutely kill your contact center’s efficiency, it also strains your agents’ ability to focus on the next call. As the next customer is coming in, they’re still scrambling to remember details from the last one while they wrap up notes and update forms — not to mention trying to ingest feedback, if they were one of the few lucky agents the supervisor was actually able to get to.

Improve beyond whisper coaching with AI

In the old days, the only way to support agents in the heat of an interaction was “whisper coaching.” Supervisors would stand over an agent’s shoulder and whisper instructions or feedback, wait and debrief after a call — or just barge in and take over the call. 

Today, AI can handle all of those things, for all agents at once, all while automatically transcribing the call.

Just as conversational AI and virtual agents can give you a critical advantage in that “first impression” stage, modern agent assist and automated transcription can help your agents deliver better, more efficient support during the interaction phase.

By minimizing after-call work and systematically scaling out personalized agent feedback, you can:

  • Reduce average handle time, boosting contact center capacity.
  • Empower agents to focus more on the customer.
  • Better coach your agents to help the customer.
  • Identify “big picture” strengths and weaknesses.
Artificial intelligence for phases of contact center interaction

Shorter interaction times

With automated transcription and interaction logging, the majority of note-taking and form-filling is taken off the agent’s plate. At Lifesize, we see this cut down after-call work by a minimum of 20 percent and as much as 80 percent. 

That can free up a significant amount of capacity, because like I said, all that administrivia adds up. For example, if you can cut that post-call work in half? You’re probably knocking 10 to 20 percent off your total handle time. That means instead of bringing on 10 agents in your next class, now you only need eight or nine.

Further focus on the customer

AI-powered agent assist and transcription enable agents to take a much more customer-centric approach. That’s the best part: You’re improving efficiency, but you’re not squeezing agents to decrease their actual “talk time” at the expense of customers. In fact, the ratio of talk time to overall handle time is actually increasing, so you’re empowering them to work on the problem for as long as it takes. 

And because the agent is no longer distracted by all those notes and forms after the last call, they can focus from the get-go on the next one.

Better coaching

Supervisors still have the ability to whisper in the ears of individual agents (even if that whispering is metaphorical via chat), but with agent assist, they can monitor and deliver real-time coaching across the entire team, with automated feedback and suggested actions. 

AI coaching technology has progressed to the point where not only is it transcribing and listening to agent interactions, it’s understanding when the agent should have asked for the sale, or was interrupting the customer or was filling out the wrong form.

Feedback for leaders too

In aggregating all that data and analysis across all those customer interactions, AI can also provide contact center managers and CX leaders with invaluable performance metrics and pattern analysis. 

By ingesting all customer interactions across all your agents — not just a tiny sample — you can get a much richer picture of what your strengths and weaknesses are as a team. That empowers you to make better strategic decisions, deliver better face-to-face coaching and better know what to look for in future agents.

The 3 key takeaways

The real beauty of AI is that it allows us to scale feedback and coaching across the entire contact center, giving more representative performance insights not only to every single agent, but to every single supervisor and leader as well. It empowers everyone up the contact center ladder to pinpoint their problem areas and areas of strength. And if everyone does their job by rectifying the former while capitalizing on the latter? That’s a recipe for success. Here are the takeaways to get you there:

  1. Real-time feedback means real-time results — With agent assist, every agent can get real-time feedback and suggestions to better serve the customer, while managers can sum up performance and take corrective measures every single day, or even every hour.
  2. Coach agents and the entire staff — I’ll say it one more time: We all need feedback not only to improve, but to feel happy and grounded in our work.
  3. It’s not about doing less, it’s about making a greater impact — By automating transcription and feedback, agents can serve more customers at a higher standard. By offloading the need to stand over agents’ shoulders all day, contact center leaders can spend more time on big picture strategy and operations.

For more insights, watch the full recent LinkedIn live stream episode, “Do Your Agents Have an AI Angel on Their Shoulder?”

For discussion of similar topics, tune in for the “Customer Experience in the Cloud” live stream series with Valur Svansson, every Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. CT on the Lifesize LinkedIn page. To watch past episodes on-demand, visit our YouTube channel.